: “ Aftershocks ”


Nifelheim System, Downing Quadrant, Vega Sector
Aboard TCS Yorktown (CV-54); Bridge
2681.048/February 18th, 2681
1502 Hours (CST)

Ramirez looked out the forward viewports. He could see the carbon scoring where the heat of the antimatter explosion had burned the paint or charred the metal of his carrier, all the way up to about the halfway point on the Yorktown. It pained him to think about the casualties-his casualties, his people-who were being cleaned up, patched up, or placed in the morgue.    

Behind him, Admiral Kennedy still remained on the bridge, looking fatigued but not nearly as tired as he’d been in Loki. Thank God for the rest they’d gotten before this engagement… otherwise, Ramirez wasn’t sure any of the pilots or crew would’ve made it through this one.    

Ahead, her drive trails glittering against the backdrop of space, was the Maribel, which had assumed the lead of the small formation of ships, her fighters, though damaged, in better shape than most of the fighters in Battle Group Rapier, and though they were older-model HF-66 Thunderbolts, patrolling, watching for hostiles.    

Yorktown was in recovery herself, patches and seals still being applied to the damaged portions of hull. Luckily, she was still battle-ready, even if she couldn’t accelerate or run and faster that was barely necessary to conduct flight operations. "Above" her on the spatial plane, the TCS Agincourt was recovering from her own wounds, a torpedo taken in the bows, which had luckily caused no significant damage, but had reduced her speed and had reduced her overall firepower slightly.    

And as Admiral Kennedy had so rightly declared earlier, this was the toughest part of any fleet engagement.    

The waiting.    

Ramirez knew that a couple of his officers were almost frantic, from the way the nervously twitched or shifted position at their consoles. One ensign was flipping quickly back and forth between displays, while another was waiting for a report to come in that had been delayed by damaged systems and burned out fiber optic lines.    

Hell, he felt that way himself. He needed something to do, anything. A report to file, something to make him feel useful or that he was making a difference… anything but this damned, demented waiting.    

He quickly reviewed the tally of fighter losses in his head. Yorktown’s squadrons were down to less than seventy-five percent strength, probably more like down to sixty-five. In wartime during the Kilrathi Wars, a carrier with a flight wing so badly shot up would have been rotated back to friendly territory as soon as possible for replacements… but this time, thanks to the politicians, there were no replacements.    

“Sir…” came the call of the ensign at the communications station.    

Ramirez was over to the ensign before he realized his feet had taken him there. “What is it, Ensign?”    

“Sir… I’m picking up something very faint… it sounds like an automated beacon of some type… Confed in origin, most definitely, but I can’t make out the details. There’s too much background noise,” the Ensign said, working the console frantically, trying to clear out the signal.    

“Let me hear it,” Ramirez said, taking a headset and plugging it into the console.    

Listening very carefully, he could hear several emergency beacons giving off their high-pitched beeps, but somebody else was saying something… at least Ramirez thought he heard something.    

“Can you boost the gain on the antenna?” Ramirez asked.    

“If I boost it any higher, the signal filters won’t be able to filter it as well,” was the reply.    

Ramirez thought for a moment. “Do it.”    

The transmission at once became clearer and yet more garbled… but Ramirez could make out several words.    

“… Endeavour… assistance… abandoning…”    

Ramirez yanked the headset off. “Get a fix on that position, and feed it through to the helm. Admiral! We’ve got some kind of distress call coming in from the Endeavour, possibly automated, along with several lifeboat beacons. I request permission to proceed to the Endeavour’s last known coordinates and begin a search for the ship.” 

Kennedy felt the weight of command land firmly on his shoulders. The Yorktown had just fought a protracted engagement, and had the scars to prove it. If this was some sort of Nephilim trap, it would be harder than ever for the Yorktown to get clear of it, especially now that one of her screening vessels, the TCS Stasheff, had been detached to operate with CVBG Auriga.

On the other hand, if the Endeavour was in trouble, and didn’t receive assistance, would he be able to live with himself, and would she be able to survive? One question he knew the answer to, the other he did not.    

And he wasn’t going to leave that question to be answered by fate… not without his having a say in it.

“Permission granted, Captain. Get us to their last known location as fast as possible. I want a scouting force launched and sent ahead to figure out what we’re getting ourselves into,” Kennedy said.    

Ramirez nodded. “Aye sir.”


Aboard TCS Yorktown (CV-54); Flight Deck
1522 Hours (CST)

Martinez looked over the notes on her kneeboard. She was due to launch in two minutes to scout ahead, along with her wingman, and her XO and his wingman, because the squadron hadn’t yet been reorganized to reflect its reduced size.    

She had sworn, not three hours ago, that she wouldn’t go back out without her entire squadron… but now, it seemed, they had allies in jeopardy.    

“I count two HS, two IR, two IFF, and one decoy dispenser!” called the inspection crewman.    

Martinez gave a thumbs-up to the crewman, indicating that she’d heard and his count was correct. The crewman tossed off a quick salute, pulled the communications jack out of its port in the side of her fighter, then pulled the ladder clear of the cockpit.    

Martinez triggered her communications array. “Piranha one-three-three, callsign Sindri Star Lead, one in the green and ready to launch.”    

“Affirmative, Sindri Star Lead. Stand by,” came the reply.    

After she had tested her controls, the yellow-shirted flight deck director ahead of her craft gestured her forward. She eased some of the engine power in and the fighter began to roll forward. Using her brakes, she brought it around according to the directions of the director, who handed her off to the next director in line and tossed off a quick salute.    

She was brought into position on the starboard-side catapult, and the JBD rose behind her fighter. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes for a moment in a quick prayer, then let the breath out.    

The catapult officer signaled for her to run her engines to full power. She shoved the throttles to full, waited for them to stabilize, then put them into afterburner. She gave a thumbs-up, and a salute which the catapult officer returned. He dropped to one knee, touched the deck of the carrier, and pointed forward.    

Martinez was once more slammed into the back of her ejection seat as the Piranha accelerated down the catapult, passed through the force curtain, and roared into space. She banked to the right, pulled her fighter out of the fuel-consuming afterburner, and called, “Piranha one-three-three is under power and clear. Two, where are you?”    

“Coming up on your eight o’clock, Lead. Ready when you are,” called her wingman.    

“Five?” Martinez asked.    

“I’m here, Lead, as is Six. Now as soon as the rest of our company comes up, we’ll be ready to go,” called Hewton from his own fighter.    

“All right, You guys know the drill. Recon-in-force. We stick together, and if we run into anything nasty, we play backstop for the big boys. Clear?” Martinez asked.    

“Yes, ma’am.”    



The "big boys" were four Panther heavy fighters, led by Major Carter, a pair of Vampire heavy fighters, led by First Lieutenant William Carson, and a pair of torpedo-armed Excalibur heavy fighters off the Agincourt, led by Major Kyle Coursain.    

Anything they would encounter, they would be ready for. Fight or flight, they could handle quite a bit.    

But they were all the Yorktown could put up at the moment. Almost every other fighter was under finishing repairs or its pilot was debriefing or recovering from the vicious battle they’d just emerged from. Techs were scrambling to get fighters back to battery, but it would be a while. As a result, Yorktown was holding her distance from where the signals had originated from.

Major Carter was the officer in command of the force, fighting off the fatigue from the long fight before, in which he’d managed to kill quite a number of the enemy fighters and had opened the path for the Yorktown’s torpedo bombers to make their attacks through.    

But nobody was complaining. All were eager to know what had happened.    

It was a thirty-minute transit, during which time nerves were worn raw but tension. Each pilot was looking anxiously at his or her rear scope, hoping, praying that they wouldn’t be jumped by overwhelming odds yet again in this campaign.    

At the end of that thirty minutes, the search began in earnest. Sensors to full power, sweeping space…    

“Lead, Six… I’ve got an escape pod… wait a minute… oh my God… everybody, this is Sindri Star Six. Converge on my position, buster. Somebody get Yorktown on the horn and tell them to get SAR over here… and they probably want to come themselves,” called Hewton’s wingman.    

“What is it, Six?” Martinez asked.    

“You’ve gotta see this, Lead…”    

“Enough with the melodramatic mystery shit, Six! Tell me what you see!” Martinez snapped.    

There was a drawn-out silence, for approximately five seconds.    

“I’ve found the Endeavour, Lead.” 


Aboard Panther 101 "Feline Lead"
Same Time

Carter punched in his afterburners and closed, his sensors still radiating at full power. Then, he saw it on his scope. A large, grey pip, which meant it wasn’t radiating any type of electronic signatures or emitting any type of heat, energy, or light.    

Quite a few smaller pips, all of them blue, were also present, holding position or running slow, small patterns.    

That is, until they picked up Carter and company approaching their position. They quickly formed up into a number of groups, then accelerated towards Carter and the rest of his group.    

“Attention Confed fighters, this is Major Carter off the Yorktown! Hold your fire! We are here to assist, over!” Carter called over the guard frequency.    

The fighters immediately slowed, and now Carter’s targeting computer could show him the details. Fighters, Confederation fighters, many with damage, transmitting the IFF codes that marked them as operating off the Endeavour… fighters he had flown with now six hours ago.    

“Sir… this is Lieutenant Karen Banner, of the Endeavour. Thank God you’ve showed up. We didn’t know if anybody had heard our distress call --  came the voice of a female officer.    

“Lieutenant… where’s the Endeavour?” Carter asked.    

There was a deafening silence. “She’s been destroyed, sir. You can probably pick the hulk up on your sensors now. While our strike was out hitting the Leviathan, the bugs got their own strike off. We tried to fight them off, but we took a pair of torpedo hits. Captain Griffin and Commander Stevens are presumed dead, and Colonel Garrison… he… was killed attempting to destroy the torpedoes they fired at the ‘Dev before they could hit. Our escorts had to fall back to draw the Nephs off. We’ve got escape pods from the Endeavour and the surviving fighters from our screen and our strike assembled here. We were waiting for somebody… anybody to come along and help us -- ” the Lieutenant began.    

“Belay that, Lieutenant. Help is on the way. Just hang tight. Yorktown is inbound, along with SAR shuttles and the rest of her task force. In the meantime, what’s your status? Did you get the carrier?” Carter said.    

“Yessir. Our strike got both the carrier and her escorting destroyer. We also fought off their few remaining fighters who seemed intent on killing the escape pods that managed to clear the 'Dev. We’re not really sure how many people made it off, but this may not be all of them. There was a lot of confusion when the torpedoes hit, and the fighter screen still had to deal with targets,” came the Lieutenant’s voice.    

Now Carter could see it: The twisted, mangled form of the Endeavour, a great gash ripped in her side, gasses still venting explosively into space, the forces exerted on her by her inertia slowly ripping the formerly-sleek light carrier apart.

He closed his eyes, bowed his head, and wondered when it would end.


Aboard Condor 022 "Savior Three"
1712 Hours (CST)

Second Lieutenant Maxwell Holland had no fighter to fly for a while, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t volunteer to help the SAR crews bring survivors in. He had quickly volunteered as soon as word came in of what had happened to the Endeavour.    

They had found nine escape pods so far, for a total of twenty-four survivors, not including those from Endeavour’s flight wing. Pod eight had just latched onto the docking hatch for the Condor SAR vehicle. Holland steeled himself for what might lay beyond. Sensors indicated only one life sign, that but that didn’t mean that there weren’t five or six corpses crammed in.    

He hit the hatch release, then worked the manual lever once that failed, and reached in. He could make out a Line Commander’s insignia, and red hair, but nothing more, in the darkness. He aimed his flashlight in, reached through the hatch, and called, “Give me your hand!”    

The grip that engulfed his hand was weary, but firm. He found himself looking into a set of large green eyes framed by red hair. A look at the nametag on the lapel gave him all he needed as he hoisted her out of the pod.    

“Commander Stevens, are you alright?” he asked.    

The woman nodded. “I’m fine, Lieutenant,” she said slowly. “I’m fine.”    

Holland nodded in return and guided her gently away from the hatch. The hatch was sealed behind them, and a slight shudder ran through the craft as the pod was jettisoned in favor of another pod. Holland guided her to a bench and sat her down, as she seemed about to collapse from fatigue.    

Holland walked quickly to the forward section of the hold and grabbed a blanket and a bottle of water, bringing them back, placing the blanket around her shoulders, and offering her the bottle. “Here you go, Commander,” he said, a sympathetic smile on his face, feeling the pain radiating off her from what she must have experienced.    

The woman smiled back, and nodded tiredly, after taking a mouthful of water and swallowing slowly. “What’s the status of the engagement?” she asked, her voice sounding dried-out and harsh.    

Holland was about to answer with, “You won” when a call came from the hatchway again. “We’ve got wounded here!”    

Without another word, he quickly turned and raced to the hatch, carrying medical supplies forward and trying to remember some of his first-aid training.    

Four of the six people crammed into this pod were injured, two critically, showing third-degree burns, and one of them with a compound fracture in his right leg, already in shock.    

“I need blankets! Now! Somebody tell the Yorktown to have medical teams standing by! Pilot, get us headed back for the ship, now!” called the head medic.    

“Doc, I’m not so sure about the lady we just brought aboard. She seems like she’s going into shock, and she may have a back injury. She was having trouble walking.” Holland said as he handed equipment to the chief medic.    

“I need oxygen now! Sanders, go with Lieutenant Holland and check the lady out!” called the medic.    

Holland had to continue working to help the wounded, but he did note that the commander was given a nod by Sanders, and a reassurance that she was fine, then wrapped the blanket more tightly around herself.    

He couldn’t imagine what she’d been through.    

The survivors just sat silently, most likely seeing the battle over and over in their heads. They’d lost their ship… their home, taking the fight to the enemy, however victorious they’d been in that effort. Holland, a plebe on his first cruise, had learned better than most during these past few weeks, that a ship was more of a family than anything else. Everybody depended on others to keep them safe and to help them holding the line. If one person failed, the entirety of the ship failed.    

But this time, nobody had failed in their work… it had just been the long odds of the campaign just catching up with the Endeavour crew.    

“All right! We’ve detected another escape pod and an ejection pod from one of their fighters. We’re starting to be a little tight on space, and fuel is starting to run low. I’m going to head back to the York after we make these two recoveries. Stand by,” came the call from the pilot.    

Holland sighed to himself. He hoped that the other Condors had managed to pick up survivors… but he didn’t know.    

Of Endeavour’s fighters, there were nine Panthers left, along with seven Shrikes, three Piranhas, five Tigersharks, and three Wasps, all of them damaged, for a grand total of twenty-seven fighters out of the original six squadrons. Less than half.    

Yorktown had recovered the ‘Dev’s surviving fighters, which fit snugly into her own flight line, taking the place of the losses her flight wing had sustained while the techs began working on those fighters as well, hoping to at least give the Endeavour’s pilots some hope that they wouldn’t be left sitting on the sidelines for this battle… but there were already rumors that those fighters would have to be transferred to Avernus Station to support the defenses there.    

An obviously green second lieutenant was recovered from the ejection pod, having ejected from his Piranha when circumstances conspired to give the enemy a high-deflection shot at his scout fighter. Luckily, he’d been given time to eject before the small ship had exploded, and the Nephilim had ignored him, attempting to go for the Endeavour.    

In the escape pod, however, they found three people from the engineering spaces, all with radiation poisoning, probably taken when the ships main reactors had been damaged.    

“Pilot, get us the hell back to the Yorktown now! One of these men took a hell of a high dose, and unless we get back soon, all the radiation treatment medication I give him won’t help!”    

Holland grabbed and overhead stanchion as the Condor heeled over and accelerated. He headed up to the cockpit, and took a seat behind the separating bulkhead so he could listen to the pilots talk. 


Aboard TCS Yorktown (CV-54); Flight Deck
1742 Hours (CST)

“Let's go! We’ve got wounded and injured to get to the bay, right now! Move it!” called the medic from the shuttle. Already, the Condor was being turned around for launch, while another medic boarded it to take the place of those disembarking to oversee the care of the casualties.    

Ramirez looked around, and saw a woman in her thirties, wearing the pips of a Line Commander. He proffered his hand, hoping his manner portrayed confidence. “Captain John Ramirez, Commanding Officer, TCS Yorktown.”

The woman seemed to snap out of her daze at the word "Captain." She drew herself upright, and offered a salute. “Commander Heather Stevens, XO, TCS Endeavour, sir.” Even after what she’d been through, she remembered something. “Permission to come aboard?”    

Ramirez smiled. “Granted, Commander, though such formalities are hardly needed right now. The medics have informed me that you’re still fit for duty. Admiral Kennedy has asked to see you as soon as possible. If you’ll follow me?”    

Stevens seemed haunted as she passed through hatches and lifts, so similar to those she had walked not hours before. Ramirez felt a pang of sorrow for her, besides what he felt about the loss of a ship as fine as the Endeavour had been.    

They walked onto the bridge quietly, so as not to interrupt anything. Kennedy was still standing there, examining the main plot as Commander Wallace oversaw the carrier’s operation.    

Ramirez cleared his throat quietly to get Kennedy’s attention. “Sir, this is Commander Stevens, XO of the Endeavour. You asked to see the senior surviving officer.”    

Kennedy turned and offered his hand. When Stevens took it, he wrapped it in both of his. “You’re very lucky to have survived, Commander. How do you feel?”    

Stevens knew the Admiral wasn’t trying to be impolite, despite the surge of resentment that welled up inside of her. “Right now, Admiral, I feel… numb would be the word, I guess.”    

Kennedy nodded. “Very well. Both of you come with me, please.”    

Kennedy led them to his flag cabin, where they could speak quietly. When they arrived, Stevens immediately asked, “How many survivors have you picked up, Admiral?”    

Kennedy shook his head regretfully. “So far, not including the pilots that brought their fighters aboard, we’ve picked up forty-one crewmembers off the Endeavour, and fifty-five pilots and bomber crews.”    

Stevens felt herself grow even more numb. Ninety-six… out of the Endeavour’s entire flight wing and crew?! God in heaven, these kind of losses are almost unheard of!    

Kennedy paused to let the number sink in, then proceeded. “Commander, I’d like your report on what happened, starting from the moment that the Endeavour recovered her fighters from the combined strike with Hades and Yorktown.”

Slowly, Stevens went through the entire story. Endeavour’s flight wing had recovered after the strike, and then the Endeavour had veered off to engage her primary target, a Leviathan-class carrier with her Orca-class escort. Both the alien carrier and the Endeavour had launched strikes, but the Endeavour had been unable to match the aliens in defensive strength without weakening her own defenses. Captain Griffin had made the decision to go ahead and launch everything but the Wasp Interceptors to engage the enemy battle group. The alien fighters had been upon the Endeavour before her group had been upon the enemy. In the resulting fight, Wing Commander Garrison had been killed trying to stop the torpedoes from impacting the carrier, rammed by an enemy fighter. The pair of torpedoes had hit, and the unknown extent of the damage to Endeavour, while Captain Griffin lay dying on the bridge. The whole sad tale came out, pouring forth from Commander Stevens as though a torrent of sadness.    

When she had finished, Kennedy sat quietly.    

Stevens realized she had been remiss. “And what happened to your group after we parted company, sir?”    

Kennedy shook his head. “We were attacked by an enemy destroyer and two corvettes, with fighter cover. Our interceptors managed to mop up the fighters, but before we could stop them, we ended up taking a torpedo hit aft. The Agincourt took one as well, but neither of the hits were lethal to the ships. We managed to mop up the rest of the enemy group without much trouble, and detached the Stasheff to operate with CVBG Auriga once again. As it is, we were trying to get our flight wing back into operation, but we picked up your distress call, and that took precedence.”    

Stevens shook her head. “So we’re out of the fight?”    

Kennedy nodded sadly. “For the moment, until we can get more of our fighters back on the line and into the fight.”    

The Admiral stood. “Based upon what you’ve told me, however, I’ve got some more news. I’m going to recommend Captain Griffin receive the Medal of Honor, and that you go to command school. You and the Endeavour’s crew have done an exceptional job, above and beyond the call of duty, and you’re not going to get lost in the paper shuffle…this is assuming we win. In the meantime, until we can transfer you to Avernus Station and we’re sure all of your escape pods have been recovered, you’ll remain here, aboard the Yorktown. We can use the extra fighters until they decide to separate us, and you’ll be the first to hear if we locate any other survivors.”    

Stevens pulled herself once more to attention. “Aye aye sir.”    

Kennedy nodded. “I have to get back to the bridge. Captain, will you please see to it that commander Stevens is assigned quarters, and coordinate with her regarding the Endeavour survivors.”    

Ramirez nodded. “Aye sir.”    

Kennedy, Ramirez, and Stevens filed out of the small cabin. 

As Stevens and Ramirez left the bridge, Kennedy couldn’t help thinking about the young woman’s story. Endeavour had been an invaluable part of the Combined Fleet…and now, the Combined Fleet was down yet another carrier, as well as another flight wing and nearly one thousand valuable, trained personnel.    

He recalled what he’d seen on the flight deck when the first of the escape pods had been brought in. It had been incredible. A technician responsible for the servicing of the Endeavour’s flight wing had stepped off the Condor, and had immediately headed for the Yorktown’s Air Wing Maintenance Officer. He had asked what tasks needed doing and if he could pitch in.    

Not three hours after losing his own carrier, he wanted back in the fight… because there was still work to be done and an enemy to defeat.    

Kennedy gazed out at the stars, asking himself where they found such men… then remembered he had still another duty to perform. 

“Communications,” He began, “Send a message to Admiral Hanton informing her of the Endeavour’s destruction and inform her that we are searching for survivors. Also inform Avernus Station that they may be receiving visitors quite soon. I want continual updates on the search for the Endeavour’s survivors.”    

“Aye, sir,” the Communications Officer replied.


Aboard Panther 101 "Feline Lead"
Same Time 

Carter looked over the sensor readings. The last Condor to come out to the crash site had brought a quartet of men in EV suits to search what was left intact of the Endeavour for survivors. Another pair of fighters, these a pair of Piranhas from one of the Endeavour’s squadrons, the VF-201 Hunters, had joined in the search after being patched up slightly (they were the least damaged), refueled, and rearmed. That brought the force to a total of six Piranhas, two Vampires, four Panthers, and two Excaliburs, not including the pair of Condor SAR craft amidst them, or the Seahawk SWACS that was monitoring the area.    

He switched to the channel specifically assigned to the recovery craft, and listened in.    

“All right… looks like we’ve got a section that’s still sealed off, deck four, just beyond frame ninety-six, port side. I’m going to see if there’s anybody still inside there… indicators are that it’s still pressurized and has atmosphere,” called one of the EV team.    

“Well be careful. Don’t depressurize the compartment and kill any survivors that might be in there because you got impatient. We have time to work with this one,” came the call.    

“Easy for you to say… you’re not out here with your ass hanging in the solar wind praying the bugs don’t decide to show up.” Came the tart rejoinder.    

That got a couple of chuckles, despite the grim situation. Carter recognized gallows humor when he heard it.    

“Hey guys… looks like we’ve got a pair of enlisted crewmembers and an officer… judging by the uniforms,” came the call.

“Are they alive?”


“Good. See if you can tell them to seal off the compartment,” called the Condor pilot as he maneuvered his craft into position.

The Condor craft SAR had a retractable docking collar that could form an airlock between rooms, allowing men to cut through an exposed surface without depressurizing the room behind the bulkhead. Salvage crews were specially trained to breach the hull of derelict warships without depressurizing the compartments behind them, when this collar was in place.    

Carter could hear over the communications frequency the hiss of welding torches cutting into the hull once the collar was in position, and the periodic progress reports coming from the officers cutting into the hull. 

“Durasteel is NOT friggin’ tissue paper! I can’t cut through this hull in less than twenty more minutes!” he called at one point.    

And then all hell broke loose.    

“All craft, this is Eagle Eye Three! We’ve got incoming bandits bearing one-four-four, Z-plus six, speed nine hundred KPS! Sensor data indicates that the targets are Nephilim fighters, numbers approximately twenty! Prepare to engage!” Called the senior controller aboard the SWACS.    

“Alright, ladies and gents. You heard him. Piranhas, you’re the maneuvering group, with the Excaliburs as backstops. Vampires and Panthers, on me. Lets try and get them as far out as possible. Vampires, launch one of your Trackers and break ‘em up at range.” Carter called out, immediately assuming commander.    

“Sindri Lead, affirmative.”    

“Hunters copy.”    

“Grendels here. Roger that last.”    

“Theseus, we’re on it.”    

Carter took a deep breath. He’d led his squadron into combat, absolutely… but this was one of the first times he’d led fighters from three different wings, with differing capabilities, and whose pilots he didn’t all know.    

He wondered if this was what Colonel Alvarez felt like.    

“Trackers away!” Called Carson from his Vampire. Two white streaks, one from the wingroot of each Vampire, streaked out into space.    

“All fighters, be advised: enemy fighters are lead by two Devil Rays, and consist of mixed types… looks like some of them may be damaged,” called the SWACS controller.    

“All right, ladies and gents. These folks are probably the survivors from the Tiamat group’s airwing. We’ve beaten them once, we can do it again. Eagle Eye Three, call the Yorktown for backup, right now. I’ll take any fighters they can give us.” Carter called, making sure he was at maximum afterburner.    

The two trackers split into four missiles apiece, each of which locked onto a separate target. However, despite the excellent shot, only five of the missiles hit, and of those, only two destroyed fighters, a pair of already-damaged Moray-class fighters.    

Then came the flurry of individual missile launches as the pilots of each side let fly with their own armaments before closing into guns range.    

Due to the fast-closing ranges and the clouds of decoys kicked out by the fighters on both sides, every single missile missed its mark, friendly and hostile.    

The fighters broke into a large, swirling dogfights. Radio calls sounded through Carter’s headset as he maneuvered to engage one of the Devil Rays… which met him head-on.    

“Your race is in peril, man-creature!” called one of the aliens over an unsecured frequency. Carter’s sensors indicated that it was the Devil Ray.    

Carter rolled his fighter up onto one of its stubby wings, slicing narrowly between a series of the sickly green blasts that cut through space he’d just vacated. He selected his full frontal armaments and opened fire as the range dropped to a few hundred kilometers. The Devil Ray roared "beneath" him. He slammed his stick to the right, using the thruster pod’s best maneuvering ability to yaw his fighter around to face the Devil Ray, even as the alien fighter curled into a tight turn to come around for another pass.    

He was about to fire again when a Piranha, bearing the markings of the Endeavour, opened fire with its Stormfire cannon, its nose winking with the muzzle flashes of the weapon, while red tracers cut through space, impacting the shields of the enemy fighter.    

The Devil Ray continued to twist around, until it faced the Piranha in a head-on position. Both fighters closed rapidly, the range scrolling down quickly.    

Carter pulled the trigger, sending ion and tachyon cannon fire spewing out into space, hammering away at the target. The Devil Ray pulled a broad split-S and began rolling and jinking in small increments, throwing off a good deal of Carter’s fire, but not enough to recharge its shields to any greater degree than they had been reduced to.    

Carter punched out a pair of IFF missiles, only to see them accelerate ahead, then arc back up over his fighter and slam into an unsuspecting Squid that had been bearing down upon him.    

The Squid was quickly ripped apart by the impacts of laser and ion cannon fire from a pair of Piranhas.    

The Devil Ray then turned the tables on the Piranha, cutting its drives and slewing around in space to face the agile scout fighter. Carter held the afterburners in as he closed, his weapons blazing. He watched his weapons chew into the Devil Ray, even as his weapons capacitors sounded a warning chime, and his weapons stopped firing due to lack of energy. He fired off another IFF missile that impacted the Devil Ray, but the powerful Nephilim fighter managed to take the impact, which, though it wiped out the bug’s starboard side armor, didn’t cripple the fighter.    

The Devil Ray re-engaged his drives, and shot forward --    

Just as Carter’s wingman punched off another IFF, which blew the bug to a distant memory.    

“Nice job, Three,” Carter called.    

“Thanks, Lead,” came the call from Second Lieutenant Jeremy "Jay" Rusler.


Aboard Vampire 103 "Grendel Nine"
Same Time 

“Goddamn but this guy’s good…Eleven, where the hell are you?” First Lieutenant William "Matchlock" Carson called out. Like the firearm his callsign named, he was known for being volatile at times… hence the callsign. His temper was legendary.    

Grendel Eleven was Second Lieutenant Anna "Whisper" Desmond, known as such due to the fact that she spoke in hushed tones all the time… even in combat, she maintained a soft tone when speaking over the communications frequencies.    

“I’m at your four o’clock, chasing down a Stingray trying to link-up with his buddies. I’ve got a Moray trying to get me from behind, but he can’t hit the broadside of a damned barn… maybe his targeting computer is shot… Fox Two!” she said. True to the last two words she’d uttered, a Spiculum IR missile streaked out, and blew the Stingray into bits no larger than a human hand.    

The other two banked around and began firing their twin forward-firing cannons at her, causing her shields to flare. Carson lined the green diamond that the ITTS projected up in his sights, and fired with his tachyon and particle cannons, which quickly punched through the shielding, and then the hull of the Stingray.    

“All fighters, Eagle Eye Three has four bandits inbound, speed nine hundred KPS, bearing one-eight-two Z-minus four, readings indicate Moray-class fighters, vectoring in on us!”    

“Not for long, Eagle Eye. Theseus is engaging now,” called Major Kyle "Killer" Coursain from the cockpit of his Excalibur heavy fighter. Matching actions to words, he and his wingman quickly broke out of the fight and streaked towards the newcomers.    

Then, Carson had a Manta in his sights, and was too busy to worry about it. The Manta was firing at him, coming from his two o’clock position, at full speed.    

Carson rolled his fighter one hundred and eighty degrees, then pulled through the vertical, presenting his aft to the Manta, kicking in his afterburners and screaming away, trying to get some distance so that he could put his superior maneuverability to use.    

The Manta continued firing, but with the smaller guns, "plinking" just to keep Carson honest as he opened the distance and came around.    

“Okay…you want to go head-to-head? Fine. Try me,” Carson called, hauling his fighter around and releasing an IFF missile.    

The Manta immediately went defensive, maneuvering and kicking out decoys as the missile closed in. The missile, unfortunately, went for one of the decoys and exploded, obliterating both the decoy and itself in a pointless display of pyrotechnics.    

But now, the hunter had become the hunted.    

In the few seconds it had taken the Manta to evade the missile, Carson had closed to killing range. He hit the trigger, pouring fire into the aft end of the Manta. The greenish shields of the Nephilim fighter flared once, twice, then failed, and the aft armor of the fighter began taking hits. After three salvos of fire, the Manta came apart before Carson’s eyes.    

There was an inhuman screech as the fighter exploded, and what sounded like a number of garbled syllables. Carson gave a half-smile behind his oxygen mask. “Adios, buddy.”    

Then his own aft shields began flaring. A pair of Morays came in from behind, their weapons spitting out sickly green blasts that flared Carson’s shields. Carson threw his fighter into a bank that sent blood rushing to his head despite the inertial compensators, then reversed it just as hard, causing the Morays to overshoot…    

… right into the waiting sights of Anna Desmond.    

In a flash, one of the Morays was blown to shreds, while the other was quickly mopped up by one of Carter’s Panthers.    

Carson then remembered the SWACS, and hoped that Coursain’s Excaliburs would get there in time to save the five people aboard.